Gordon Hayward made his free agent decision and it is the Celtics and Boston. It is also escape the Warriors and escape Jimmy Butler and escape Kawhi Leonard and escape James Harden and Chris Paul. It is escape just about everything that is the Western Conference and bring some semblance of star power to the east.
Hayward is not the second best player in the East- that is John Wall. But Hayward ups the star quotient after so many summer defections from a conference that is talent poor.
In announcing his decision Hayward penned a gracious and thoughtful letter to the Utah fans who were supportive from day one. Hayward thanked just about everyone involved in the Jazz organization that made it possible for him to be a coveted free agent. Although, he didn’t exactly explain what was the tipping point other than being reunited with college coach Brad Stevens, there was the feeling that the Jazz couldn’t compete with the Celtics lore, their history, their place in the NBA culture. It was, in a way, the rich getting richer, and yet, what was refreshing from Hayward’s letter was that there was no apology. He had a decision. It was a tough one. He made it. Let the chips fall where they fall.
“This has been the toughest decision I had to make in my life. This weekend has probably been the longest weekend of my life. And today….well, today has abeen one of the craziest days of my life.” Gordon Hayward (The Players Tribune)
Hayward, a 2010 lottery pick, did what the system allowed. He stayed with the team that drafted him through two contracts. And then he surveyed the landscape and chose something else. It is his right to do so. He is in charge of how he wants his career to go. But, with stars in such short supply. particularly stars at the small forward position, Hayward’s choice comes with a tough consequence. It buries the Utah Jazz.
Karl Malone and John Stockton loyalty doesn’t exist anymore. The All-Stars that followed them have all abandoned ship. Andrei Kirilenko. Carlos Boozer. Mehmet Okur. Deron Williams. Add Gordon Hayward to the list.
In his seventh season, Gordon Hayward met his potential. He was a 20 point scorer and a top free agent prize. Everything 2016-17 for Hayward shouted out loud “special”. More importantly, more than anything Hayward did for himself was what he did for his team: he shattered the five year playoff drought for the Utah Jazz. They won their first playoff series in seven years and on cue were humbled by the Warriors in the second round. That began the Gordon Hayward hunt. Or, the Gordon Hayward watch.
My meetings with all three teams during this process-Miami, Boston and Utah- were just unbelievable. They couldn’t have been more impressive. Each meeting left me convinced that the team I’d just met with was the right fit. And even after I slept on it last night, while I was leaning heavily in one direction….I still wasn’t 100 percent convinced about what i wanted to do.”
His first year in Boston, Hayward will start his eighth NBA season reunited with his college coach. It feels like he just got here. It feels like that Butler-Duke game was yesterday. In getting this far, Hayward was trying to do the impossible over time, join Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, Tom Gugliotta, Wally Szczerbiak, Brad Miller, John Stockton, David Lee, Chris Kaman, Kevin Love as the only white American All-Stars since Larry Bird made the All-Star game his regular showcase 30 years ago. It isn’t an over-exaggeration to say that white NBA players are judged more harshly. They have to disprove a negative.
Gordon Hayward came into the league as a scorer, a 6-8 versatile high efficiency shot maker. Even though his rookie year wasn’t remarkable, what he demonstrated was he could put the ball in the hole. He shot 48.5%. He drained his threes, 47.3%. He hit the mid-range, 43.8%. He only played 17 minutes a game. The question seemed obvious. What would happen when he doubled those minutes? Who would he be?
An All-Star. In year seven, Hayward played 35 minutes. He made the most field goals of his career (7.5). He drained 50.6% of his two point shots. He rebounded at a career level (5.4). He was a 22 points per game scorer. He posted an offensive rating of 118 and his defense was the best it has ever been. His PER was 22.2. Last year it was 18.3. So- and this is a scary thought- Gordon Hayward is getting better and at 27 years old he has not reached his prime.
More numbers. He was the 9th best small forward when measuring on court impact. (Real Plus-Minus). He connected on 44.4% of his mid-range shots. 39.8% of his threes. It didn’t matter where he took threes, he made them at home and on the road with the same efficiency. He had more assists on the road, more rebounds on the road. His plus minus on the year was +6.6 and in home games it was +9.1.
Gordon Hayward was in the playoffs his second year in the league and it was a humbling experience. The Jazz played the Spurs and Hayward had a disastrous shooting series, 18.2%. He only made 6 out of 33 shots. He connected on 1 out of 12 threes and managed 7.3 points which was way off from his regular season of 11.8 points. But it was a different Gordon Hayward five years later. 15 playoff games. 24 points. 41% from three. 6 rebounds and 3 assists.
It’s why the Celtics love the possibility of Hayward. They think they are one Gordon Hayward away from beating the old Cavaliers. Hayward gives LeBron James a player he has to actually guard with effort and intensity. Plus, LeBron brings out the best in Hayward. In 2014, Hayward had a game winning shot at Utah to beat the Cavs. This year, all Hayward did was make 83% of his shots and nearly have double digit rebounds against LeBron on January 10th. Hayward can’t stop LeBron. But LeBron couldn’t stop Hayward when he went on a 8-0 run capped off by a couple of threes. Afterwards, Hayward said, “we need more wins.” Hayward is always humble.
Boston won’t change Hayward even though Hayward changed Salt Lake. They thought they were at the cusp of something special. Instead, it was rent-a-player, the seven year version. The Jazz are back where they started, searching for a star.
#stayward is for the history books.
photo via llananba